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Bill Addison

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Beefy Joyrides for Every Budget at Dallas' Knife

John Tesar is so notorious for whipping up controversy that people outside of Dallas may not realize the guy can actually throw down in the kitchen. He arrived in North Texas for a career reboot as executive chef at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, left in early 2009 to pursue other projects, and returned to Dallas in 2011 to briefly run an upscale burger joint and wine bar called The Commissary. At the end of 2012 he finally settled down with Spoon, a small, elegant seafood restaurant in the city's posh Preston Center community. Dazzlers like smoked-sturgeon headcheese with horseradish crème fraîche, a dab of chive gel, and caviar brought him the loudest accolades since his Mansion days. I went last year and joined the chorus of praise.

John Tesar

In the glow of Spoon's success, the Kimpton group recruited Tesar to run a steakhouse in the local Palomar Hotel (which was just rechristened as The Highland by Hilton, its new operators). Knife opened in May with a progressive chophouse bent encouraged by Tesar's recent research travels around the country; he was particularly taken with Mario Batali's Carnevino in Las Vegas. Knife gives beefy joyrides for every budget. Among the largely economical "New School" steaks, home in on the supple, $25 flatiron (a shoulder cut) from 44 Farms north of Austin, first roasted and then grilled to intensify the flavor. Tesar resurrects his burger know-how with beauties like The Magic, a chubby patty embellished by four Americana toppings (lettuce, red onion, crisp bacon, oozing cheddar) that all barely fit on an English muffin. On the splurge side, a beast of a ribeye — 28 ounces, dry-aged for 65 days — came in at $90, easily serving two and delivering all of the funky mineral tang one can hope for in a luxury hunk of meat.

Dallas may be rife with steakhouses, but the majority of them lean traditional. Tesar wades beyond the fray with a pan-carnivorous approach. Bacon receives abundant love on this menu: It gilds bone marrow (with celery leaves and caviar providing much-needed contrast), it comes in pork belly forms in the Changian steamed bun as well as over collards for a Southern lilt, and it stars in its own over-the-top tasting with five variations, including crisped Iberico ham. The crisped ham also shows up winningly as part of an arugula and green apple salad. Though intrigued, I couldn't even think of facing the half pig's head served with tortillas and sauces.

Above: The Magic Burger; Left: Flatiron steak; Right: Bacon-crusted bone marrow with caviar

And I truly understood for the first time why heavy desserts are part of the steakhouse oeuvre: I needed the sugar rush here to rouse from the banquette. Pastry chef David Collier, who worked with Tesar at The Mansion and also oversees desserts at Spoon, skews lighter than typical cheesecake bombs. Try finales like his small, cylindrical pretzel cake with a caramel center and fillips that expound on the sweet-savory theme: caramel center, dulce de leche panna cotta, and pretzel ice cream garnished with pretzel dust.

Tesar is working this fertile period of his career to the fullest: He has a potential reality show and hotel restaurant projects in Memphis and North Carolina in development, and there's recent word that he'll be opening a third Dallas restaurant — this one serving Italian cuisine. Perhaps he'll stretch himself too thin. But at the moment, with Spoon and now Knife, he's two for two.

Restaurant Editor Bill Addison is traveling to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back in January to find out which restaurants made the cut.

Photos: Bill Addison

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